Beyond the Silo: Understanding and Building Linkages Across the Food System

Guest blog by Carolina Bruschi, a PhD student in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading.

The 2017 Oxford Food Forum: “Beyond the Silo: Understanding and Building Linkages Across the Food System” took place on 29 April in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford. It was a one-day conference focusing on the relationships and communications inside the food system and their impacts on the production chain.

In my research I have found that the more I specialised I become, the more I recognise a lack of interdisciplinarity and connection between the different levels in the food system. Segregation of academic research from practice is increasingly noticeable, and the result of this segregation is that we often end up overlooking the root causes of some of the problems we encounter, whilst focusing on solving secondary issues generated by them. Over the course of the conference, it became clear to me that this isolation is embedded in the roots of academia, which divides knowledge into segments. This makes communication between the segments difficult and thereby reduces the probability of finding solutions to problems.

One of the highlight talks of the conference was the opening keynote lecture by Professor Corinna Hawkes (Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London), who addressed the lack of communication between the food production chain and academia. She described how problems in the food system are not often analysed broadly, and how improper management of specific issues can result in a failure to address their root causes. Another talk that really stood out for me was given by Elinor Brett, from the American University of Rome, on a project she developed in Bangladesh linking food security with informal food vending. It was an enriching opportunity to hear about work in food safety with such a strong focus on social, cultural and gender issues.

Sabine Parrish (Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford) also gave a brilliant presentation on coffee origin trips. Her presentation made me realise the lack of ethnobotanical studies in the food industry and how these might be used to improve the food system. A case study of a sustainable community in Chiapas, Mexico was presented by Emilio Travieso (Department of International Development, University of Oxford) and its dynamics reminded me of an eco-friendly community that I used to visit in my home town. It is wonderfully reassuring to see these kinds of initiatives around the world and to understand their environmental and social impact.

Kate Poland (Cordwainers Grow) and Frances Hansford (independent researcher) presented a short movie titled: “Where the Lies Are – Exploring the Impact of Food Advertising on Children’s Eating Habits” produced by London school children. This presented a fun way of engaging children and encouraging them to have good food habits by understanding the labelling of products. Having this knowledge also enables them to make better eating choices. It was interesting to see the children’s disappointment when looking at the sugar contents on a product label!

Laura Lengnick (Cultivating Resilience, LLC) ended the day with a summary of the day’s main points and finished with an inspiring talk about resilience in food systems. This is an area that was first brought to my attention in this conference and provides a very interesting linkage between food production and social, political and environmental issues. 

This conference was a great opportunity to discover that many of my questions about the food system are also a concern for people who work in the field. It also made me realise the potential impact of my research and the real contributions it can have in food science.

Carolina Bruschi is a PhD student in the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Reading. She graduated in Biology at Universidade Estadual de Londrina (Londrina, Brazil) and did her masters studies in Applied Microbiology at Universidade Católica Portuguesa (Porto, Portugal). Her studies focus on food health and safety, mainly working with lactic acid bacteria and Listeria monocytogenes.


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